This editorial first appeared in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:
Wednesday and today in Anchorage, former President Jimmy Carter headlines a two-day conference marking the 25th anniversary of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. The event, arranged by the Alaska Conservation Foundation, features 38 presenters who will speak about "the spirit that passed and then defended such crucial legislation.
"For two exciting days, we will gather with President Carter and other heroes to remember, to celebrate, to learn, and to look forward as we rediscover the importance of ANILCA and Alaska's environmental legacy."
Alaskans shouldn't believe for a minute, however, that the gathering is meant to be anything but a display of ANILCA rapture. Of the more than three dozen speakers, there isn't one from the mining or timber industries, there isn't one representing the interests of people who own land within the conservation units created by ANILCA, there isn't one speaking about hunting, and there isn't one who will be critical of the restrictions that came with the establishment and expansion of so many federal parks and refuges in this state.
No, this celebration in Anchorage isn't intended to be a fair assessment of what ANILCA has done, good and bad, to Alaska. Alaskans deserve the complete picture about ANILCA; having such a pro-ANILCA conference in the state's population center only promulgates a perception that the act has been nothing but good for the state. Imagine if the Alaska Conservation Foundation had opted to have its 38 speakers have their say in Fairbanks. You can bet there'd be a counter-event to point out the act's shortcomings.
Although there's dispute over ANILCA's effect on the state, there's no dispute that it has been significant. The lands act was the culminating legislation in a series of pieces that have defined Alaska since statehood, claiming its immediate root in the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971, which contained a section - 17d(2) - that required that up to 80 million acres of federal land in the state be put into conservation units by December 1978. Through actions by President Carter and Congress, the acreage set aside ultimately totaled 104 million acres when the act was signed in 1980.
A quarter century after President Carter signed the act into law, ANILCA remains a divisive issue, and it lives most outwardly today in the battles over the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the Tongass National Forest. The years since the president put his mark on the state have seen numerous struggles, including the unresolved subsistence disagreement with the state government.
Those attending the ANILCA celebration Wednesday and today in Anchorage are as passionate about the lands act and what it signifies to them as the opponents of the act are about its failings. And there's no bridging that divide - a divide that may not come across clearly this week in the state's largest city.